Tradition and Real Time Winemaking

Dave called me in my office. He said “you should come down here and see this”. So I headed out to the sorting table, where he and Beatrice and a Dutch guy were sorting fruit. I knew we were bringing in syrah, but this fruit was green/ gold. “Viognier”, Dave said. “It’s going right into the blend with the Hilltop and Entry block syrah”. Interesting. This classic Cote Rotie blend has long been a tradition in the great Southern France wine field. Historically, the crisp white variety brought perfume to the bouquet and charm to the rich Syrah of the region. Modernly, the practice is not as much a necessity as it was in antiquity, rather, more of a winemaker’s choice. ¬†Higher tech wine making is able to capture the charm, acidity, and higher tone fruit qualities of the syrah without the addition of such a blending agent. For this reason, and as in the sangiovese/ trebbiano tandem in Chianti, we see less need for this blend nowadays. Still, wine making is a highly personal art, as well as a rigorous science, and experimentation is an endless vocation to those that continue to press to be better. So I suppose we could call it an expected surprise as the viognier fruit was added -in to the the syrah in tank, and commenced to soak.

Stephan had often said, in his early days here in Paso Robles, that he saw no real need for this sort of blend to be assembled. After all, Syrah is to Paso Robles what Cabernet is to Bordeaux, and the capture of it’s pure, Paso character was enough. When I reminded him of his former position, he responded easily “Only a stupid man refuses to change”. Bravo! However, things are never so simple as to be summed up so concisely, so I dug a little deeper. As Stephan said, “It is a little complicate”. Experimenting with the classic blend was definitely a factor in taking the decision in 2013. There was, however, a second motive for this, chiefly, that of the “old vine” viognier coming in so much later than the first picking of the newer plantation. Adding this recent pick back into the first was not an option, and the tiny yield that it surrendered (around 2/3 of a ton for the acre) made the formulation of this blend a natural decision. ¬†Case closed? Hardly!

As wine making is a highly personal pursuit, Stephan is a winemaker highly conscious of his mandate to always make the best wine possible from the great fruit from his vineyard. No “program” or “formula” wines are made at L’Aventure. The blends in their final form are only determined after exhaustive tasting March following vintage by a panel of people that know the vineyard well. To this point, this viognier /syrah blend is far from finding it’s place in the 2013 vintage. Will the wine remain as it is? Will mourvedre that is coming in over the next couple of days find it’s way into the cuvee? Will the lot be bottled “as is”, or will it be blended into the syrah selected for Cote a Cote? I think we will not know this until March, 2014!